HOUSTON – A total of 50 people are now in custody
following the return of a 206-count indictment alleging varying roles in a
large-scale marriage fraud scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick
along with Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and District Director Tony
Bryson of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The federal grand jury returned the massive indictment
April 30, 2019, charging 96 individuals. To date, law enforcement has taken 50
into custody. Of those, nine are set to appear for a detention hearing before
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson at 10:00 a.m. today.
The indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not
as yet in custody.
“These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive
year-long multi-agency investigation into one of the largest alleged marriage
fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area,” said Dawson. “By
working together with our partners from various federal law enforcement
agencies we have sent a resounding message that we are united in our effort to
disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to circumvent U.S. law
by fraudulent means.”
The investigation targeted a suspected criminal
organization allegedly operating a large-scale marriage fraud scheme. The scam
involved the creation of sham marriages in order to illegally obtain admission
and immigrant status for aliens in the United States, according to the
The charges allege Ashley Yen Nguyen AKA Duyen, 53, of
Houston, headed the Southwest Houston-based organization and had associates
operating throughout Texas and Vietnam.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime. This indictment
reveals how successful our working relationships are with our law enforcement
and intelligence partners when it comes to investigating marriage fraud,” said
Bryson. “USCIS remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring national
security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.”
A sham marriage is a marriage that is entered into for
the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws. The indictment alleges
the marriages involved in this conspiracy were shams because the spouses did
not live together and did not intend to do so, contrary to documents and
statements they submitted to USCIS. The spouses only met briefly, usually
immediately before they obtained their marriage license, or not at all,
according to the charges. The spouses allegedly entered into the marriage
pursuant to a financial arrangement for the primary purpose of circumventing
U.S. immigration laws.
According to the charges, each beneficiary spouse entered
in an agreement with Duyen in which they would pay approximately $50,000 -
$70,000 to obtain full lawful permanent resident status. The agreements were
allegedly prorated in that they would pay an additional amount for each
immigration benefit they received, such as admission into the United States,
conditional permanent resident status and full lawful permanent resident
In addition, Duyen and others recruited other United
States citizens to act as petitioners in the sham marriages, according to the
indictment, who received a portion of the proceeds received from the
beneficiary spouses. Several individuals that were recruited as petitioners
soon after became recruiters themselves, according to the allegations.
Others were also allegedly in charge of receiving the
proceeds from the beneficiary spouses and disbursing the payments to the
The indictment also charges several individuals to act as
guides for U.S. citizen petitioners who allegedly travelled to Vietnam under
the guise they were going to meet his/her fiancé. In truth, according to the
indictment, they were beneficiary spouses paying the criminal organization in
order to circumvent United States law.
The criminal organization also allegedly prepared fake
wedding albums which were provided to the petitioner and beneficiary spouse
that included photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony
above and beyond a simply courthouse marriage. The indictment further alleges
the criminal organization provided false tax, utility and employment
information to help ensure USCIS would approve the false immigration forms.
Also indicted is attorney Trang Le Nguyen aka Nguyen Le
Thien Trang, 45, of Pearland, for obstructing and impeding the due
administration of justice and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
According to the indictment, Nguyen allegedly prepared paperwork associated
with at least one of the fraudulent marriages and told a witness who provided
information to law enforcement to go into hiding, not engage in any air travel
that may alert federal law enforcement to her presence and not provide any
further information to law enforcement.
The charges include 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50
counts of mail fraud, 51 counts of immigration fraud, 51 counts of false
statements under oath in matter relating to registry of aliens and one count
each of conspiracy to engage in marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit mail
fraud, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, conspiracy to make false
statements under oath in matter relating to registry of aliens, unlawful
procurement of naturalization, obstructing and impeding the due administration
of justice and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
Conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and tampering
with a witness, victim, or informant all carry possible 20-year federal prison
sentences. If convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud or marriage
fraud, those charged face up to five years in prison. The remaining charges all
have maximum possible 10-year-terms of federal imprisonment.
HSI and USCIS conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S.
Attorneys Adam Laurence Goldman, Michael Day and Kate Suh are prosecuting the
An indictment is an accusation of criminal conduct, not
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through
due process of law.